Gracious Receiver

Posted on: Monday, September 14th, 2015 by Monica Hoel
Beth Holding Hagan (E&H '83) has been the recipient of a new heart...and so much more.

Beth Holding Hagan (E&H ’83) admits that she has always been the “quarterback” – and switching to the position of “receiver” hasn’t been easy.

But this “get-it-done” mom, wife, advocate for community projects, and rabid supporter of the high school football team has had to use a different formation from the playbook lately. When she found out in 2013 that her doctors were looking into a heart transplant for her, the playing field brought on new challenges – and opportunities.

Beth said she was shocked when she got the news and refused to even listen to plans – but her “awesome” husband John (E&H ’83) started investigating transplant centers. The process for receiving a heart is complicated and uncertain, and she needed to live within a 3-4 hour drive of the hospital; her home in Big Stone Gap, Virginia wasn’t going to work. John’s brother lives in northern Virginia, so Inova Fairfax hospital was the sensible choice and, in the end, the right choice because her medical team felt like family. Inova, by the way, is where Dick Chaney had his heart transplant surgery.

When the call came in March of 2015 that she had a heart donor that matched her requirements, she said her emotions were all over the place. “Of course I was thrilled to be receiving a heart, but all I could think about was the donor’s family and what they must be going through.”

The surgery went perfectly, and she is showing no sign of rejecting the new heart. And on July 10 she got to go home to Big Stone. She had been living away from home for a year and 8 days. “They made me stay in northern Virginia for a full 3 months after the surgery; and that first night back in my own bed felt like heaven!”

Beth says her friends and family and community have been amazingly supportive and helpful, but it has been a challenge to be on the receiving end of so many gifts: loving support, donations, and, of course, the heart. She is the one usually out front leading fundraisers for those in need, delivering casseroles, and organizing dinners for students. But Beth has done those things long enough to know that it is a gift to be able to do something to help another person. “I have learned that even though it’s hard to be on the receiving end of all this love, I can’t be an ungracious receiver – because that would take someone’s gift away.”

And Beth is gracious…and grateful…for the support she and John and her son and daughter have received. She laughs when telling of how her son didn’t know what to do when her best buddies (a.k.a the “Ya Ya’s”) showed up to clean her house while she was still living in Fairfax. “If people don’t have a circle of friends, I don’t know how they make it through life.” She says she has received over 2,000 cards (even from current-student members of her sorority, Kappa Phi Alpha), and hasn’t even begun to get through all the containers of food left in their freezer.

She has also had a chance to thank the family of her organ donor. “I wanted them to know I was grateful, and that I will take the best care of this heart that I possibly can.” In fact, she is especially pleased to see that people in her community are starting to look more seriously at organ donation now that they know someone who has been on the receiving end of that gift. “Not everyone understands what it means to be an organ donor, and I feel strongly about raising awareness of this program and educating people about how it can change lives.”

These days she’s thrilled to get back to her life, and she’s ready to start quarterbacking again. “You can’t keep all your blessings – you have to give back!” 

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